Elsie Inglis (16 August 1864 – 26 November 1917) was an innovative Scottish doctor, suffragist, and founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals.
She was born in the hill station town of Naini Tal, India, to John Forbes David Inglis who worked in the Indian civil service as Chief Commissioner of Oudh through the East India Company.
After a private education her decision to study medicine was delayed by her mother’s death in 1885, when she felt obliged to stay in Edinburgh with her father.
In 1887 the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women was opened by Dr Sophia Jex-Blake and Inglis started her studies there.
She qualified as a licentiate of both the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1892.
She was appalled by the general standard of care and lack of specialisation in the needs of female patients but was able to obtain a post at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s pioneering New Hospital for Women in London, and then at the Rotunda in Dublin, a leading maternity hospital.
Despite her already notable achievements it was her efforts during the First World War that brought her fame.
She was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, an organisation funded by the women’s suffrage movement with the express aim of providing all female staffed relief hospitals for the Allied war effort.
The organisation was active in sending teams to Belgium, France, Serbia and Russia.
When Elsie Inglis approached the Royal Army Medical Corps to offer them a ready-made Medical Unit staffed by qualified women, the War Office told her “My good lady, go home and sit still”.
It was, instead, the French government that took up her offer and established her unit in Serbia.
Elsie Inglis, herself, went with the teams sent to Serbia where her presence and work in improving hygiene reduced typhus and other epidemics that had been raging there.
In 1915 she was captured and repatriated but upon reaching home she began organising funds for a Scottish Women’s Hospital team in Russia.
She headed the team when it left for Odessa, Russia in 1916 but lasted only a year before she was forced to return to the United Kingdom, suffering from cancer.
In April 1916, Elsie Inglis became the first woman to be awarded the Order of the White Eagle (V class) by the Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia at a ceremony in London.
She died on 26 November 1917, the day after she arrived back in England, at the Station Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne.
Her funeral service at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh on 29 November was “the occasion of an impressive public tribute”, according to The Scotsman. Winston Churchill said of Inglis and her nurses “they will shine in history.